Kitchen Staples

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Transitioning your family to healthier eating patterns can be a challenge especially if it involves giving up some of your favorite foods and old routines. Emotional attachments to food can run deeper than nutritional needs and those attachments often follow a pattern.

Think about it - making the same thing for breakfast every morning is comforting and gets you and your household out the door on time. The best way to guarantee success with your new nutrition goals is to develop new routines, habits and favorite foods.

If you can identify a short list of healthy must-have foods that satisfy your nutritional needs and your appetite, stock your kitchen with these foods so you can avoid feeling deprived.  Include a variety of protein sources, fruits and vegetables (that you can eat raw or cooked), and an array of high-quality fats for cooking and eating.

Here are my top 10 favorite staples to have on hand. Use these items to make meals and snacks to leave you feeling energized and satisfied, emotionally and physically!

1.    Coconut oil

Organic, unrefined coconut oil is a great choice for cooking. It lends a somewhat buttery flavor to dishes and can be used at medium to medium-high temperatures without oxidizing (which means it remains good for you even if it’s heated to higher temperatures). Coconut oil is saturated and therefore solid at cooler temperatures. It is a good stand-in for butter and a dairy free option in baked treats.

You can also use clarified butter or ghee for cooking and baking but the coconut has many nutritional benefits — and the silky taste and wonderful texture it produces can’t be beat.

If you don’t like the flavor of coconut oil, consider expeller-pressed, refined coconut oil instead. It’s refined through mechanics (not chemicals) so it’s safe to eat.

2.    Organic Coconut Flakes

Eaten on their own as a snack or sprinkled into and on top of sweet and savoury dishes, coconut flakes add an additional dimension of flavor and texture. They’re delicious, kid friendly morsels of good-for you fat that allow you to transform the taste and appearance of any dish.

Try tossing a few on top of Thai curries or sprinkling them on a bowl of berries drizzled with full-fat coconut milk.

3.    Full Fat Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is an excellent replacement for heavy cream or yogurt in curries, creamy sauces and other sweet and savoury dishes. It’s also luscious when whipped into a creamy cushion and served over fresh fruit. Organic brands are recommended — and always choose the full-fat version. (‘Light’ coconut milk is merely the full-fat variety, watered down.) Be sure to check the ingredients list: Guar gum is acceptable in a pinch. Avoid brands that include sulfites or added sugar.

For richer, creamier curries — and when making whipped coconut cream — place the can in the refrigerator for a few hours and don’t shake the coconut milk before opening. The cream rises to the top as it sits. Just scoop out the thickened coconut milk and discard the leftover liquid or use it in a smoothie.

4.    Grass-Fed, Ground Beef

With a few pounds of ground beef from grass-fed cows in the refrigerator, you’re about 10 minutes away from an easy and delicious dinner. Browned and seasoned with aromatics, herbs and spices, ground beef is like a blank canvas that you can turn into a quick, tasty meal. Add vegetables and Chinese five-spice powder for an Asian-inspired dish. Shape it into a burger patty and pile it on top of a big colourful salad. Make easy Thai wraps by rolling cooked ground beef with thinly sliced cucumber, carrot and hot pepper in a lettuce leaf and then sprinkle with lime juice. Meatballs are also a favourite, and easy to freeze, once cooked, for later use.

Beef from grass-fed cows contains CLAs (conjugated linoleic acids). This healthy fat protects you against disease and also helps you become a natural fat burner. This means you can enjoy this healthy fat to help with effortless weight loss and better health.

To ensure that beef from grass-fed cows stays tender, cook it at medium to medium-high heat temperatures (never at high heat).

5.    Sardines in Olive Oil

These little fish are the perfect on-the-go food. Lunch is on the table in about five minutes after opening a can of boneless, skinless sardines. Arrange them on a plate with a red bell pepper cut into strips, a cucumber cut into coin-shaped slices and a carrot cut into sticks. A side of fresh fruit and you’re good to go! With a pleasing amount of oil and a not-too-fishy taste the sardines are a power food. And the leftover oil from the can is perfect for dipping raw veggies.

If some members of your family are squeamish about sardines look for the boneless, skinless variety rather than the whole fish. Boneless and skinless, the sardines have the texture and appearance of a small fish fillet, rather than an actual fish.

6.    Dark, Leafy Greens

When people talk about how delicious and nutritious leafy greens can be, they usually mention kale as the superstar. Collard greens, Swiss chard and endive or escarole are also excellent choices. Easier to clean and cook than kale, they’re packed with similar nutrients. Collard leaves are large and flat — and a little sturdier than kale. Collard greens and endive tenderize during steaming without becoming too mushy. You can braise them in a coconut milk curry, wrap them around meat fillings and bake in tomato sauce or sauté them in coconut oil with seasonings to make a vitamin-packed side dish.

Collard greens are pretty mild and taste great at breakfast with eggs and leftover protein. Endive has a spicier flavour and goes well with hearty protein dishes. Chard can be used as you would spinach.

7.    Cauliflower

Cauliflower may be the most versatile vegetable in the kitchen so you should always have a head (or two!) in the refrigerator. You can grate it in a food processor and sauté it with fat and spices to make Cauliflower Rice or boil it in broth and mash with coconut milk to transform it into Mashed Cauliflower.

Cauliflower adds big-time crunch when chopped raw in salads and it becomes crisp-tender when roasted in the oven with a sprinkling of sea salt and crushed garlic.

8.    Unsweetened, Frozen Berries

Low in fructose and high in antioxidants, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries are loaded with nutrition and sweet taste. Thanks to frozen varieties, you can enjoy them all year long. They are not too sweet and will not trigger sugar and junk food cravings yet they’re sweet enough to be considered a real treat.

Try them halfway defrosted, drizzled with coconut milk for dessert or as part of a special weekend breakfast alongside an omelet.

9.    Free-Run Eggs

Great any time of day, eggs are a terrific source of fast protein. After a long day, breakfast for dinner can be comforting — simple scrambled eggs or a vegetable omelet does the trick. Use eggs to make homemade mayonnaise and hollandaise sauce for delicious accompaniments to many dishes. Keep a dozen hard-cooked eggs in the refrigerator for an easy go-to snack to make egg salad or deviled eggs. 

10.    Cold-Pressed, Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Pure extra virgin olive oil is very high in monounsaturated fats and contains a modest amount of vitamins E and K. True extra virgin olive oil is also loaded with antioxidants, some of which have powerful health benefits. The benefits of this wonderful fat are among the few things that most nutrition experts actually agree on. 

Drizzle cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil over lightly cooked fish, salads and steamed vegetables and use it to make home-made dressings and mayonnaise. In a food processor, combine the oil some dried chili peppers, real balsamic vinegar and anchovies for an Italian-inspired dip.

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For more about nutrition, tips to improve overall health and wellbeing, recipes and meal plans, visit Integrative Health.